At the launch of the NCD network computer-- a device with a CPU and memory but no hard drive, I was struck with how much it resembled an X-terminal-- a device with a CPU and memory but no hard drive.
“Well it is an X-terminal really,” says Andrew Rouch, systems engineer for NCD. In fact, NCD (which stands for Network Computing Devices) hasn’t even changed the name of the models. Before, it had Xplora and Xplora Pro for the average user, and the HMX family for high-end graphics workstation use. And now it has the Xplora, Xplora Pro and HMX line. The only thing that has changed is the advent of Java.
Rouch says current X-terminal users will also be able to run Java applets. Sites already using NCD X-terminals include Motorola, Victoria University, Otago University, Waikato University, University of Auckland, Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Waipa District Council, Carter Holt Harvey, Thomas Cook, Telecom Directories, Manukau City Council and the Navy.
NCD’s network computer comes with X-Ware software which allows users to open windows on to any type of application, be it Unix, Intel, RISC, AS/400, Java, Windows NT or proprietary.
The X-11 protocol carries the graphical user interface information from the file server to the NC, which processes it and brings it up on screen. This X protocol is a low user of bandwidth, and because it does away with the need to transfer graphics across the network, network computers run faster than their full PC counterparts.
Mind you, considering they haven’t got a hard drive, they’re not exactly cheap. Nowhere near the magical $US500 we’ve heard of so often. Andrew Rouch says the $US500 price point was probably unrealistic anyway. The entry-level NC, the Xplora based on the PowerPC 403 chip, with 4Mb RAM is priced at around $2000, not including a monitor.
NCD says, however, that overall the network computer is cheaper than the PC. By now everybody knows about the Gartner Group report which concluded that the capital cost of a single PC equates to 20% of its overall cost. Support over that period accounted for 80% of the cost of ownership.
Network computers (as X-terminals) have been known to last for up to eight years. Upgrades are not required because you only need to upgrade the server. Also because they have no hard drives you don’t need to worry about employees loading all sorts of extraneous software, introducing viruses, playing games. Plus no moving parts like hard drives and fans means less breakage.
Of course, this may mean an uprising from staff who are used to the control of PCs. Anyone moving staff away from PCs to intranet NCs would have to manage the change carefully.